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Russia28 June 2002

Grigory Pasko’s jail sentence is confirmed

Reporters sans frontières said today it was appalled at today’s confirmation by a Russian court of a four-year prison sentence for "high treason" passed on journalist Grigory Pasko.

"Russia has convicted itself in the eyes of the world with this decision by the military division of the Supreme Court in Moscow," said Reporters sans frontières secretary-general Robert Ménard.

"President Putin, who is about to negotiate on equal footing with the G8 nations, may claim that his country is democratic and has independent courts, but nobody will believe him any more. The same court admitted last February that there was no legal basis for the conviction. We will continue to denounce this parody of justice and call for the immediate release of Pasko, who was only doing his job as a journalist," Ménard said.

The Supreme Court decision rejected an appeal against the sentence, handed down on Christmas Day last year. Pasko, who had already spent 20 months in prison between 1997 and 1999 for "gathering state secrets with the aim of passing them on to foreign organisations," was jailed in Vladivostok after his conviction for high treason. Last February, the Supreme Court said there was "no legal basis" for it and this led to his appeal.

While he was a reporter in 1997 for the military newspaper Boevaya Vakhta aboard the Russian oil tanker TNT 27, he filmed liquid radioactive waste being dumped from the ship into the Sea of Japan. The pictures were shown on the Japanese TV station NHK and caused uproar in Japan. Pasko also wrote articles about pollution caused by the virtual abandonment of the Russian Navy’s old nuclear submarines and the involvement of the secret police in illegal sales of nuclear waste.

Reporters Without Borders considers what Pasko reported in 1997 to be public knowledge and therefore not state secrets. Russia’s press law says that "any journalist has the right to seek, request, receive and disseminate news" (Article 47). Under Articles 41 and 42 of the Russian Constitution, withholding information about the environment or disasters and thus putting human lives in danger is a criminal offence.

Reporters Without Borders notes that various French and Swiss media have declared their support for Pasko. They include (in France) the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, the daily paper France Soir and Radio France International and (in Switzerland) the newspaper Le Courrier. By adopting him, they have pledged to publicise his case.

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